In the fall of 2012, while I was serving in a women’s prison ministry in Cuenca, Ecuador, we decided to introduce Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered, 12-step program. In preparation, I began answering the questions in the program booklets. I was not doing this with any thought that I needed to recover from anything, but only to “help those poor women who were so dysfunctional.”
However, in the leader´s guide, I found a list of common dysfunctions from which people need to recover. As I perused the list, which ranged from sexual sins to being late, the Holy Spirit pointed out three of them as mine: perfectionism, excessive work and a need to control.
For years, I had struggled with these dysfunctions without recognizing them for what they were. Then God began opening my eyes. Here I was, a Christian of 49 years — a missionary for 33 of those — realizing that underneath the surface I had an emotional need that was negatively affecting my marriage and my ministry.
As a couple, Tom and I worked together in the ministry. We worked hard, and despite our faults, God used us. But both of us dealt with needless stress and frustration, and even though we went forward, we went limping.
Our relationship was something like a grocery cart that pulls to one side. The cart functions. You can push it all through the store, stop it whenever you need to, fill it with groceries, take it to the check-out, fill it up with the bagged groceries and push it out to the car. It does everything it is supposed to do, but keeping that cart going straight is very annoying and makes grocery shopping stressful.
I was aware that I needed help. Very patiently and gently, over the course of months, God helped me see that my need to control, and especially to control my husband and the ministry, was rooted in a fear instilled in me during my childhood. That was a great surprise to me. If anyone had asked me if I was afraid, I would have said no. Certainly I would not have moved to Latin America pregnant with my first child if I was afraid!
Nevertheless, deep within me, hidden for years, was a fear of failure in the ministry. I examined in detail my years of growing up in a pastoral family. I saw that I had developed a style of living to help me deal with the insecurity I felt as a child when we had to move because my father had gotten “voted out” at churches.
My efforts to control everything, to seek perfection in the ministry, to work more and more and please everyone were intended to avoid failure. But, in actuality, this was damaging my relationships.
In 2014, we were privileged to attend a counseling retreat, which was tremendously helpful to us. It was at that retreat that we first encountered the book, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” by Pete Scazzero.
One of the principles of emotionally healthy spirituality is to examine your family of origin in order to know yourself. I had been doing that and through the “Emotionally Healthy Discipleship” courses, I learned even more about how my family shaped me.
Another principle is the importance of balancing activity with contemplation, silence and solitude. I have never been one to sit still and do nothing. My doing for God far outweighed my delight in him; my work was not balanced by my worship. Even my devotions were busy with reading, journaling and praying through lists and prayer calendars. God spoke to my heart, “Be still, daughter. Be still and know me.” This was not the first time he had spoken to me about my busyness, but I had never been so fully aware of my dysfunctions and the fear in which they were rooted. Isaiah 30:15 became my beacon verse: “In returning and rest you shall be saved. In quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (NKJV).
It sounded good, but how? How to slow down? How to calm the whirring of my mind, stop my compulsive planning, back off those impossible to-do lists and stop trying to control my husband? God used the courses to bring us into a healthy rhythm. In addition to my regular devotional routine, I began practicing silence before the Lord every morning, beginning with just two minutes of quieting my mind and focusing on Jesus.
“Returning” to Jesus often, relaxing my body and mind and quietly resting in him has allowed him to change the way I think and, therefore, the way I live. Tom and I both practice silence daily. We keep a weekly, 24-hour Sabbath of rest and delight. We schedule a day of solitude at least once every three months. We have honest conversations with each other, and we listen to each other.
This process has cost us work and tears but has resulted in peace in our home and true intimacy in our marriage. We’ve learned how to work together without control and tension. God used different people and resources to accomplish this. The Celebrate Recovery program opened my eyes, but it was the “Emotionally Healthy Discipleship” courses (Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and Emotionally Healthy Relationships) that have given us the tools for sustained life change. We are eternally grateful!
Lydia Hines is a career missionary to Latin America with Global Partners.